A Second Update on Our Civil Rights Audit

By Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Civil rights are the foundation of a free and just society — and something we care deeply about as a company. We want to make sure we’re advancing civil rights on our platform, and today we’re sharing a second report that details our efforts.

Laura Murphy, a highly respected civil rights and civil liberties advocate, began leading an audit more than a year ago with support from the noted civil rights law firm Relman, Dane and Colfax. She’s spoken to more than 90 civil rights organizations and people from Facebook’s policy, product and enforcement teams. Last December, she shared her first update, which focused on our US election-related work, including steps to prevent voter suppression and encourage voter participation.

Today’s report, which you can read here, gives another update on our progress and points out where we need to do more. It highlights four areas where we’ve made changes:

Strengthening Our Policies and Enforcement Against Harmful Content

Our Community Standards, the policies for what’s allowed on Facebook, are key to making sure people can freely and safely connect and share with each other. In March, we built upon our longstanding ban against white supremacy after speaking with civil rights leaders, experts across the political spectrum and academics in race relations. We now ban praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism. Today’s report recommends we go further to include content that supports white nationalist ideology even if the terms “white nationalism” and “white separatism” aren’t explicitly used. We’re addressing this by identifying hate slogans and symbols connected to white nationalism and white separatism to better enforce our policy.

We also recently updated our policies so Facebook isn’t used to organize events that intimidate or harass people based on their race, religion, or other parts of their identity. We now ban posts from people who intend to bring weapons anywhere to intimidate or harass others, or who encourage people to do the same. Civil rights leaders first flagged this trend to us, and it’s exactly the type of content our policies are meant to protect against.

Getting our policies right is just one part of the solution. We also need to get better at enforcement — both in taking down and leaving up the right content. For example, civil rights groups have been concerned about us mistakenly taking down content meant to draw attention to and fight discrimination rather than promote it. We’re taking steps to address this, including a US pilot program where some of the people who review content on Facebook only focus on hate speech instead of a range of content that can include bullying, nudity, and misrepresentation. We believe allowing reviewers to specialize only in hate speech could help them further build the expertise that may lead to increased accuracy over time.

Fighting Discrimination in Facebook Ads

Our ads tools help businesses reach people all over the world and we need to make sure they aren’t misused. In March 2019, we announced historic settlement agreements with leading civil rights organizations to change how US housing, employment and credit ads are run on Facebook.

Our policies have always prohibited advertisers from using our tools to discriminate. In 2018, we went further by removing thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. But we can do better. As a result of the settlement, we’re rolling out updates so anyone who wants to run US housing, employment and credit ads will no longer be allowed to target by age, gender or zip code and will have a much smaller set of targeting categories overall. We’re building ways to make sure advertisers follow these rules with plans for full enforcement by the end of the year. We will also have a tool where you can search for and view current US housing ads by advertiser and location, regardless of whether the ads are shown to you.

We’re committed to going beyond the settlement agreement to let people search US employment and credit ads on Facebook too. These ads are crucial to helping people buy homes, find jobs, and gain access to credit — and it’s important that everyone on Facebook has access to these opportunities.

Protecting the 2020 Census and Elections Against Intimidation

With both the US Census and the US presidential elections, 2020 will be a big year. An accurate census count is crucial to governments for functions like distributing federal funds and to businesses and researchers. That’s why we’re going to treat next year’s census like an election — with people, policies and technology in place to protect against census interference.

We’re building a team dedicated to these census efforts and introducing a new policy in the fall that protects against misinformation related to the census. We’ll enforce it using artificial intelligence. We’ll also partner with non-partisan groups to help promote proactive participation in the census.

To protect elections, we have a team across product, engineering, data science, policy, legal and operations dedicated full time to these efforts. They’re already working to ban ads that discourage people from voting, and we expect to finalize a new policy and its enforcement before the 2019 gubernatorial elections. This is a direct response to the types of ads we saw on Facebook in 2016. It builds on the work we’ve done over the past year to prevent voter suppression and stay ahead of people trying to misuse our products.

Just as civil rights groups helped us better prepare for the 2018 elections, their guidance has been key as we prepare for the 2020 Census and upcoming elections around the world.

Formalizing Facebook’s Civil Rights Task Force

Perhaps most importantly, today we’re announcing plans to build greater awareness about civil rights on Facebook and long-term accountability across the company. Since the first audit update in December, I created a civil rights task force made up of senior leaders across key areas of the company. Today, we’re going one step further and formalizing this task force so it lives on after the audit is finished.

The task force will onboard civil rights expertise to ensure it is effective in addressing areas like content policy, fairness in artificial intelligence, privacy, and elections. For example, we will work with voting rights experts to make sure key members of our election team are trained on trends in voter intimidation and suppression so they can remove this content from Facebook more effectively.

We’re also introducing civil rights training for all senior leaders on the task force and key employees who work in the early stages of developing relevant products and policies. The training is designed to increase awareness of civil rights issues and build civil rights considerations into decisions, products and policies at the company. We know these are the first steps to developing long-term accountability. We plan on making further changes to build a culture that explicitly protects and promotes civil rights on Facebook.

Laura’s second report includes more information about the updates we’re making. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with many key leaders, and our conversations have been humbling and invaluable. We will continue listening to feedback from the civil rights community and address the important issues they’ve raised so Facebook can better protect and promote the civil rights of everyone who uses our services.

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